Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 19
Empower Santa Barbara County expands to include all of the Central Coast
BY SHELLY CONE
More people will have access to energy-efficient upgrades, thanks to an expansion of a program that began in Santa Barbara County.
EmPower Santa Barbara County has become emPower Central Coast, expanding its services to Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties as well as increasing the number of energy efficient services it provides.
“We’re really excited to be bringing the program to residents in San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties and increasing energy efficiency education outreach,” said Angie Hacker, emPower Central Coast’s program manager.
The program, which began 2-1/2 years ago, has been fully funded externally with grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. Now state agencies have come aboard.
“Because we had an innovative program already up and running and increasing energy efficiency for so many residents, the state was willing to give us additional funding,” Hacker said.
The California Energy Commission, along with Southern California Gas, PG&E and SEC, will provide the additional funding.
Along with the expansion into the tri counties area, emPower’s additional grant funding allowed the program to increase its utility incentives from a maximum of $4,500 to $6,500 and increased its Home Upgrade Loans.
Hacker said there are roughly 5.8 million homes needing energy-efficient retrofits in the state.
The program provides free energy coaching to help homeowners reduce energy consumption and stimulates the economy by creating jobs through its innovative energy saving solutions that partner with local businesses, Hacker said.
She said emPower Central Coast’s expansion is necessary because affordability is a major obstacle for many homeowners that might want to make energy-efficient improvements. So far, emPower Central Coast has held 100 outreach events in Santa Barbara County.
One of the most popular aspects of the program is the energy coaching, which emPower Central Coast has provided to 250 residents. The program had one energy coach, but the popularity of the free service allowed the agency to bring on a second coach.
The coaching services allow residents to understand how excessive energy consumption costs them money and how upgrades and other energy efficient retrofits can save them money.
When Santa Maria resident Ralph Foster and his wife, Rosalie, bought their current 1,680-square-foot house in 2000 after retiring from the railroad industry, they began to notice trouble with their heating system. For years the couple had trouble with the heating system, but coming from Omaha, NE, it wasn’t a pressing issue for the Fosters.
“The heating system hasn’t been working well since 2000, but here on the coast you don’t need it as much, not like in Omaha,” he said.
A few weeks ago Foster discovered emPower Central Coast when he was searching for a heating contractor online. Out of curiosity he looked into the program. Foster said he had participated in a similar program to install solar panels a few years ago. The positive experience with that program prompted him to participate in emPower Central Coast.
“They go through the house and tell you where the heat is coming in, where it is leaving. Every different aspect you can look at it from, they look at it,” he said.
Foster received a furnace system, efficiency upgrades to the ducting support, and transitioned his lighting to LED lighting to limit some of the energy leaks.
“I learned a lot of things from the contractor. He was willing to explain a lot of things better than some contractors, so I felt good that there was a good explanation for everything,” he said.
That education is a big part of what drives emPower Central Coast to reach out to the community.
“The hope is to get people some education about what’s going on in their house so they can make better decisions on energy efficient improvements,” Hacker said.
Since the program launched, 400 people have made some sort of home energy improvement to their houses, and 100 reported complete upgrades through the program.
For more information about the emPower program, visit empowersbc.org.
Contact freelance writer Shelly Cone through the managing editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.